Buzzing: A Children's Special
Happy new year everyone – may 2021 bring you vaccination and human interaction.
This week in Buzzing:
Kids aren’t bugged by insects. Fact.
The Q&A: Don’t take my word for it - see what the kids say.
Test corner: Buffalo worm and raspberry muffins
With the UK in full lockdown and children out of school, I thought it’d be fitting to start the year with a special issue on children. What interests me so much in this topic is the fact that young children don’t have preconceived ideas of what constitutes food: a toddler in London is, on paper, as likely to try an insect as a two-year old in Thailand. They’ll take their cues from their parents and peers, and if that includes insects, then so be it. This is not to say they’ll like everything, but dislikes will be down to individual preferences rather than cultural norms.
There have been a couple of interesting studies on the subject of edible insects and children, including one by Imperial College London that surveyed schoolchildren aged 6-15 in London. The study found that 6- to 11-year olds were more likely to show an interest in insect products than older children. This is significant because it suggests that with the right education and marketing, there could be a much larger market in the future as children become adults and start making their own purchasing decisions.
The study said it also opened a “very powerful route to adult interest: ‘pester power’”. Any parent will recognise this: children can be incredibly persistent if they really want something (Kinder Eggs and single flakes from the ice-cream van come to mind). “It may therefore be possible to target two demographics with a single approach,” it concluded.
Imperial College London researchers also found that children reacted better to products that didn’t contain visible insect parts and that looked familiar (also true for adults). This has definitely been my experience so far: if it looks like pasta/curry/falafels/muffins, it’s a go (although my three-year old will eat them straight from the packet). Another study carried out by Verity Jones, University of West England, and Sarah Beynon, Bug Farm Foods, came to similar conclusions. The researchers tested an insect and plant-based mince called VEXo on primary and secondary schoolchildren in Wales. VEXo was developed by Bug Farm Foods with children’s nutrition in mind (low in saturated fats but high in essential nutrients such as iron and riboflavin). It can be cooked in a variety of ways (just like mince or Quorn) and was prepared as a Bolognese sauce and a burger for the study.
Children were asked to fill a questionnaire about their attitude towards eating insects. The researchers then did a 45-minute presentation and an optional tasting. Three-quarters of children said they enjoyed the food and many commented that it looked “normal”.
The children were asked to fill the same questionnaire after the tasting. Initially, just 27% had said they would choose a product containing insects for their school lunch; after the tasting, it had risen to 56%. When VEXo was then put on the menu at a secondary school in Wales, 50% of children chose it.
I visited the school back in November 2019 (you can read some of their comments below) and was surprised by how unfazed the kids seemed about the fact that they’d had bug Bolognese for lunch. Some of it I’ll put down to teenage nonchalance, but I’ll also say this in their defence: once you’ve taken that first step, it is amazing how quickly it can feel normal to eat insects.
These musings feel more relevant than ever with the news this week that the EU’s food watchdog approved the yellow mealworm as safe for human consumtpion. This means mealworms will soon be available everywhere in the EU. Like it or not, our kids will definitely be eating insects when they grow up.
PS: I ran a very unsuccessful poll on Twitter (total responses: 7) to find out whether parents would feed insects to their children. I’d love to hear your views, so do feel free to comment by hitting the button below!
The Q&A: The kids!
Who better to feature this week than the children of Penrhyn Dewi in St David’s, whom I visited in November 2019. This is what they had to say about the VEXo Bolognese on their school menu.
“We got given a letter to take home about tasting bugs and loads of my friends were like, no way, I’m not tasting bugs but I thought, you know what, I’ll give it a try.” Ebony, 13
“I thought it was going to be really bad. But we all had seconds.” Casey, 13
“I loved it. It was just really good. I find it better than beef Bolognese.” Poppy, 13
“If they didn’t know it was bugs, they wouldn’t be able to tell, they would just think it’s normal Bolognese.” Becky, 14
“My parents think it’s normal [to eat insects] but some of my family are quite disgusted by it.” Dylan, 13
“I wasn’t put off at all by the insects. It’s quite nice to be looking at other sources of food when there is so much of it.” Dylan, 14
Test corner: Buffalo worm and raspberry muffins
There were a few treats during the Christmas holidays, including these lovely breakfast muffins. I made them with the kids, so they were fully aware of what went in them: 30g of buffalo worms, along with the more traditional ingredients of flour, egg, milk, oil, baking powder and sugar. I used BUG’s recipe but tweaked it slightly: I swapped the blueberries for raspberries and used wholemeal flour instead of plain. We also added a couple of pieces of dark chocolate to each (it was Christmas after all).
The batch of nine muffins didn’t last 24 hours. The kids scoffed one each when they came out of the oven and the rest disappeared over breakfast the next day. I felt the buffalo worms were particularly good for this recipe given their almondy taste. And the raspberries brought a lovely sharpness. More importantly, given the low sugar in the recipe and the high protein from the buffalo worms, milk and egg, I think these make genuinely healthy alternatives (minus the dark chocolate bits) to the toast with jam or peanut butter the kids have most mornings. Sold.
Hi, I’m Emilie Filou, a freelance journalist. I specialise in business and sustainability issues and have a long-standing interest in Africa. If you liked Buzzing, please share with friends and colleagues, or buy me a coffee. My funky cricket avatar was designed by Sheila Lukeni.